I was speaking to my husband who is a first-year teacher and the topic of navigating student discipline came up, as it often does. He teaches middle school like me, and if there is one thing I know about middle-schooler it is how often they do not think through their decisions before they act. It leads to a lot of funny moments, but at times, also a lot of behavior displays that can be rather disruptive to the rest of the class or to themselves.
He asked me what I do when a child continuously disrupts. How do I approach them to help them change? And while I laughed a little because I am not sure that we can really make a child change, I do believe that there are ways we can invite them into a conversation about their choices without jumping right into punishment. And that has been a major change for me; slowing down before jumping to conclusions, but then how do you do that at the moment when perhaps you also feel heated and a bit indignant at yet another disruption?
I use a simple question, “Are you okay?” before proceeding with any decisions. I have used it so often that it is now hardwired into my language. This is to slow me down, to increase communication, to recognize behavior as a way of communication, and to center my approach in unconditional positive regard.
When I first started using it many years ago, I had to really think about it. Our brains are wired to jump into decision-making rapidly, in fact, educators reportedly make thousands of decisions every single day, each one opening a new instructional possibility. No wonder we often switch into a rapid-fire mode when navigating a child’s seemingly poor decisions; we have so many other things to juggle at that moment. But it is often this automaticity that can backfire in the long run, rather than recognize the uniqueness of the situation at hand, we treat it as if it is routine. Perhaps sometimes it is when handling a child’s repeat decisions. And yet, we must come into each situation recognizing its uniqueness and its opportunity for exploration. Asking, “Are you okay? “ and following up with “This does not seem like you…” (even if it is a repeated behavior pattern) signals that we are concerned about the human in front of us and not just the choice they have made.
That pause also allows us to recalibrate ourselves and get our emotions in check before proceeding further with a conversation. This can make the difference between strengthening a relationship or doing further damage.
Of course, if students are engaged in dangerous behavior, such as fighting, or physical destruction on a larger scale, I don’t often use this approach. When safety is at risk, other communication methods are used, but this does not happen as often as our brain sometimes wants us to believe. Slowing down, seeing the child as a child, no matter their size, and recognizing the inherent power imbalance at play, can help us navigate many behavioral situations.
And more importantly, I am worried about them and their well-being. So why not ask before we jump to further conclusions?
This post originally appeared in my Patreon community, where I share weekly lesson plans, resources, curated book lists, mini-pd recordings, and also live Q&As. If you would like to learn more frequently with me, I invite you to join. If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me coach, collaborate with your teachers, or speak at your conference, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.
Cross-posted from my Patreon community. Join me there for a lot more writing, access to lesson plans, monthly Q&A opportunities, curated book lists, and other collaborative opportunities.
The initial pandemic lockdown made it painfully clear that I had few boundaries when it came to my work and non-work time. After yet another night of sitting behind my computer until 10 PM, my husband gently shut it and told me that this was not working. And he was right. But how do you set better boundaries when the world feels like it is on fire and you have to be part of the team that sets it right again?
Idea 1: Set your own time frame and limits and then stick to them.
Since preparing for teaching is a job that is never complete; how much are you willing to work beyond your hours? Put a post-it note up detailing how many free hours you are willing to donate to your job a day or a week and then keep it visible. We often forget just how much extra time we are putting in, having a visual reminder of it can help us find more of a balance.
Idea 2: Set up firm boundaries for your availability.
It is so easy to be plugged into work at all times. There is always work to be done, there are always emails to answers, or new ideas to find, but often what we assume will only take a small amount of time, do not when we add up all of the extra minutes we use “just checking.” So set guilt-free boundaries for your own availability and when you will do work over the evenings/weekend often. As a result of clear boundaries, I have strict email guidelines for myself: No work email on my phone, no checking email after 8 PM on weeknights, no checking it on Friday evenings or all of Sunday at all. I also have clear boundaries for when I will work during my weekend: Saturday morning only and only if I absolutely must. Sunday’s are a day of rest, relaxation, and doing things that bring me joy.
Idea 3: Work when you are most productive.
I am a morning person and have been since the arrival of our oldest child. I work best when it is still dark out and everyone is still asleep and so when I have a lot of work to do, my extra hours are placed early in the morning. I think quicker, I have more energy, and my optimism is still sky-high, this allows me to do my best work rather than waiting until evening when I am tired and I long for sleep. Know yourself and your own energy times and try to plan your work time then. Allow yourself to get the rest you need rather than working beyond those hours. Often it takes a lot longer to finish tasks when you are working during your tired time.
Idea 4: First task: Always be ready for the very next day.
This is the simplest yet most effective idea I have that I shared with my own new teacher husband who was working late into the night every night for months trying to keep up. While we often get pulled into grading, answering emails, and planning entire units before we prepare for the next day, I have flipped the order of my tasks; now I start with the preparation or the very next day before I take on the bigger work I need to do. When I walk out for the night, my classroom is ready for the very next day, including materials, lessons plans, and the space itself. That means I can choose to not work in the evening because I know I am ready for tomorrow and that allows me space to be with my family, to read, and to do whatever I want to do that is not work-related
Idea 5: Plan out your prep time.
This idea was graciously handed to me by a colleague who first got me clued into setting better boundaries. So often our prep time gets consumed by quick check-ins with colleagues, copies, classroom clean up or all the millions of other small things that crop up in our day. Instead of leaving things to chance, when I make my daily to-do list, I plan out what I will use my prep time for specifically, so I know when I need to prepare something. Often the first thing is to be fully ready to teach tomorrow, then run any errands around the building I need to take care of, and then grade /plan units after that. I tend to not stop by colleagues’ classrooms unless I have extra time to talk so a quick email or phone call to ask them a question is always my preferred way to get answers. This also helps me be more cognizant of other people’s time as I don’t want to take up more of their time than I need to.
Idea 6: Cut back the extra work.
I spent an extraordinary amount of time laminating my first few years as a teacher, as well as changing out bulletin boards. Now, I hardly ever do either, because I don’t see the need. If I need to change a bulletin board, I ask students for their help and not many items deserve to be laminated. What are your extra tasks that suck up your time?
Idea 7: Do a time inventory.
While this takes time upfront, it can save you time in the long run. Shadow yourself for a day or a week and notice what is taking up your time, both while you are teaching and when you are in preparation mode. Is everything that you are doing needed? Where are you spending more time than needed? What brings you joy and you want to preserve? When are you unproductive and when are you not? Studying your own patterns can help you see areas where you can be more efficient within the time constraint given.
Idea 8: All the other little things.
How else can you save time?
· Create form emails and comments that you can re-use from child to child when it comes to communicating needs and successes, have them saved somewhere accessible.
· Leave comments on your lesson plans as you teach them, so you know what needs to be fixed/reworked/cut out if you use it again.
· Embrace using your ideas again for lessons but rework them and adapt them to the needs of your current students.
· Involve the students in making anchor charts, classroom study guides, and self-assessment, and make these tools live with the students rather than after class.
· Consider what really needs to be given feedback or assessed and consider how much of that feedback can be spoken at the moment rather than written after the fact.
· Shut your classroom door. While an open door often means, “Come on in!” a shut door will often cause people a pause before they enter. It signals that you would like to be left to work rather than chat.
· Stop volunteering yourself for everything. I have the hardest time saying no when it comes to anything for children and yet, I purposefully do not reply at first to any emails that ask for volunteers unless I am excited about the opportunity. Often my volunteering was not because I wanted to but because I felt I should, so step away from that request and give it some real thought.
· Share ownership with students wherever you can. I often spent time on my prep and at the end of the day cleaning up our learning space, but now if the classroom is in disarray, I dismiss kids by table once it is cleaned up. I make sure we have enough time to clean up, so they are not late for their next class.
· Create a list of what really needs to be done: should do, can do, and would like to do someday. If you ever have extra time, refer to the list and see what you can tackle.
For the past 12 years, I have shared everything I could think of on this blog, on social media, and working with other educators. Every lesson shared, every question answered, every request sent to me has connected me to so many of you; I have been so grateful for your support of me, the Global Read Aloud, and the work I do.
For 12 years, I have worked tirelessly to help create change in education, to try to lighten the load as much as possible, and to continue this important work. And while that work will continue it is time for it to eveolve a little bit to give you an opportunity for more direct interaction so today I have also launched my Patreon page.
What will this community entail?
It will give us a way to collaborate in a new way, where you don’t have to wait for your district or school to hire me or be able to attend an event, but instead allow you to reach out, get support, and work together in accessible ways. It also will allow me to continue the work of the Global Read Aloud in a sustainable way. In fact, one of the tiers is meant as a way to just support the GRA!
Being a member will offer you access to virtual sessions, curated monthly booklists, specific breakdown of lessons and units, access to some of my presentations, as well as personal brainstorming sessions with me if you so choose. There will also be exclusive content, early access to new resources, monthly Q&As, as well as other opportunities for connections. You can even snag me for an hour-long brainstorming session for you or a small group of people!
With this access, you will get a chance to really tailor our opportunity to work together. You can have specific support from month to month, help co-create units and get the support to create change in your unique situation.
I am excited to have an opportunity to interact more organically and also be available to you for any specific questions and needs you may have.
If you find value in my work or have benefitted from it in, then I welcome you to be a part of the community on Patreon where the learning, discussion, and collaboration will continue. If you can’t, don’t worry, this page will still exist with occasional updates and 12 years of materials.
6 Tiers of Supportto Choose From
There are 6 different levels for you to choose from, they all offer unique experiences and ways to support this work. All monthly work will kick off March 1st but there are already resources there to explore and help you.
One of the most popular requests in our 7th-grade classroom this year has been for the “short” book, in fact, just this morning a student asked me for another short amazing read. The book that manages to suck us in and keep us enthralled in less or around 200 pages. The books that are getting passed around from kid to kid as fast as I can book talk them. And don’t be fooled by their “shorter” page count; these books carry a punch. Perhaps like me, you also have younger teens who are requesting these books, so I thought pulling a list together might be helpful. I have purposefully left graphic novels off of here because they deserve their own list, frankly. So here are some of the many incredible books that my 7th graders keep passing around for reading and also that were recommended by people online. You will notice that a few are a little bit longer, I ran this list by my students, of course, and they insisted that some of these books deserved to be on it despite their length because they didn’t “feel or read long.”
Alina & Lev are two siblings living in Pripyat, one of the Soviet Union’s proud nuclear cities. Both are asleep in their beds.
Their cousin, Yuri, is a custodian at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, where he’s fiercely attacking a spill in the hallway with a mop.
Alina’s best friend, Sofiya, sleeps just a few doors down. Her father is an engineer at the plant, a fact that has always filled her with pride.
In five minutes, Reactor No. 4 will explode in a ball of fire. It will expel radiation across their town for nine days before it’s finally contained. For the people of Pripyat, it will be far too late.
Two young siblings flee the Chernobyl disaster with their parents, but the Communist party is on their heels. Meanwhile, the friends and family they were forced to leave behind must contend with a disinformation campaign that’s determined to pretend nothing is wrong-even as deadly radiation spills into the air.
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?
Instead of giving him lunch money, Rex’s mom has signed him up for free meals. As a poor kid in a wealthy school district, better-off kids crowd impatiently behind him as he tries to explain to the cashier that he’s on the free meal program. The lunch lady is hard of hearing, so Rex has to shout.
Free Lunch is the story of Rex’s efforts to navigate his first semester of sixth grade―who to sit with, not being able to join the football team, Halloween in a handmade costume, classmates and a teacher who take one look at him and decide he’s trouble―all while wearing secondhand clothes and being hungry. His mom and her boyfriend are out of work, and life at home is punctuated by outbursts of violence. Halfway through the semester, his family is evicted and ends up in government-subsidized housing in view of the school. Rex lingers at the end of last period every day until the buses have left, so no one will see where he lives.
Description: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander. Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.
Lida thought she was safe. Her neighbors wearing the yellow star were all taken away, but Lida is not Jewish. She will be fine, won’t she?But she cannot escape the horrors of World War II.Lida’s parents are ripped away from her and she is separated from her beloved sister, Larissa. The Nazis take Lida to a brutal work camp, where she and other Ukrainian children are forced into backbreaking labor. Starving and terrified, Lida bonds with her fellow prisoners, but none of them know if they’ll live to see tomorrow.When Lida and her friends are assigned to make bombs for the German army, Lida cannot stand the thought of helping the enemy. Then she has an idea. What if she sabotaged the bombs… and the Nazis? Can she do so without getting caught?And if she’s freed, will she ever find her sister again?This pulse-pounding novel of survival, courage, and hope shows us a lesser-known piece of history — and is sure to keep readers captivated until the last page.
Tight: Lately Bryan’s been feeling it in all kinds of ways. He knows what’s tight for him in a good way–reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But drama’s hard to escape where he’s from, and that gets him wound up tight.
And now Bryan’s new friend Mike is challenging him to have fun in ways that are crazy risky. At first, it’s a rush following Mike, hopping turnstiles, subway surfing, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But Bryan never feels right acting wrong. So which way will he go when he understands that drama is so not his style? Fortunately his favorite comic heroes shed light on his dilemma, reminding him that he has power–the power to choose his friends and to stand up for what he believes is right . . .
This novel dramatizes an incident that took place in a California school in 1969. A teacher creates an experimental movement in his class to help students understand how people could have followed Hitler. The results are astounding. The highly disciplined group, modeled on the principles of the Hilter Youth, has its own salute, chants, and special ways of acting as a unit and sweeps beyond the class and throughout the school, evolving into a society willing to give up freedom for regimentation and blind obedience to their leader. All will learn a lesson that will never be forgotten.
Amal has big dreams, until a nightmarish encounter . . .
Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.
Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them–so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules—like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space—her swimming pool—where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
Jack is at the top of his game. He’s a senior running back on the football team, dominating every opponent in his way. To everyone else, Jack is totally in control. In reality, he struggles with an eating disorder that controls every aspect of his daily life. When Jack starts using steroids, he feels invincible, but will the steroids help him win the big game, or will he lose everything he’s ever worked for?
Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way. Includes an afterword by author Linda Sue Park and the real-life Salva Dut, on whom the novel is based, and who went on to found Water for South Sudan.
The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.
Minni lives in the poorest part of Mumbai, where access to water is limited to a few hours a day and the communal taps have long lines. Lately, though, even that access is threatened by severe water shortages and thieves who are stealing this precious commodity—an act that Minni accidentally witnesses one night. Meanwhile, in the high-rise building where she just started to work, she discovers that water streams out of every faucet and there’s even a rooftop swimming pool. What Minni also discovers there is one of the water mafia bosses. Now she must decide whether to expose him and risk her job and maybe her life. How did something as simple as access to water get so complicated?
When Wesley Boone writes a poem for his high school English class, some of his classmates clamor to read their poems aloud too. Soon they’re having weekly poetry sessions and, one by one, the eighteen students are opening up and taking on the risky challenge of self-revelation. There’s Lupe Alvarin, desperate to have a baby so she will feel loved. Raynard Patterson, hiding a secret behind his silence. Porscha Johnson, needing an outlet for her anger after her mother OD’s. Through the poetry they share and narratives in which they reveal their most intimate thoughts about themselves and one another, their words and lives show what lies beneath the skin, behind the eyes, beyond the masquerade.
For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he’s as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ’s house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ’s mom explains it’s because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that–but it doesn’t make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can’t remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?
Robie is an experienced traveler. She’s taken the flight from Honolulu to the Midway Atoll, a group of Pacific islands where her parents live, many times. When she has to get to Midway in a hurry after a visit with her aunt in Hawaii, she gets on the next cargo flight at the last minute. She knows the pilot, but on this flight, there’s a new co-pilot named Max. All systems are go until a storm hits during the flight. The only passenger, Robie doesn’t panic until the engine suddenly cuts out and Max shouts at her to put on a life jacket. They are over miles of Pacific Ocean. She sees Max struggle with a raft.
And then . . . she’s in the water. Fighting for her life. Max pulls her onto the raft, and that’s when the real terror begins. They have no water. Their only food is a bag of Skittles. There are sharks. There is an island. But there’s no sign of help on the way.
In a future where the Population Police enforce the law limiting a family to only two children, Luke, an illegal third child, has lived all his twelve years in isolation and fear on his family’s farm in this start to the Shadow Children series from Margaret Peterson Haddix.
Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.
Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.
Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, haunted by his secret knowledge of his mother’s infidelity, is traveling by single-engine plane to visit his father for the first time since the divorce. When the plane crashes, killing the pilot, the sole survivor is Brian. He is alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present.
At first consumed by despair and self-pity, Brian slowly learns survival skills—how to make a shelter for himself, how to hunt and fish and forage for food, how to make a fire—and even finds the courage to start over from scratch when a tornado ravages his campsite. When Brian is finally rescued after fifty-four days in the wild, he emerges from his ordeal with new patience and maturity, and a greater understanding of himself and his parents.
Just when you think you have nothing left to lose, they come for your dreams.
Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The Indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.
Flames race toward Sam Castine’s summer camp as evacuation buses are loading, but Sam runs back to get his phone. Suddenly, a flash of heat blasts him as pine trees explode. Now a wall of fire separates Sam from his bus, and there’s only one thing to do: Run for his life. Run or die.
Lungs burning, Sam’s only goal is to keep moving. Drought has made the forest a tinderbox, and Sam struggles to remember survival tricks he learned from his late father. Then, when he least expects it, he encounters Delphy, an older girl who is also lost. Their unlikely friendship grows as they join forces to find civilization.
The pace never slows, and eventually flames surround Sam and Delphy on all sides. A powerful bond is forged that can only grow out of true hardship — as two true friends beat all odds and outwit one of the deadliest fires ever.
RACE. Uh-oh. The R-word. But actually talking about race is one of the most important things to learn how to do.
Adapted from the award-winning, bestselling Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, this book takes readers on a journey from present to past and back again. Kids will discover where racist ideas came from, identify how they impact America today, and meet those who have fought racism with antiracism. Along the way, they’ll learn how to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives.
The monster in Conor’s backyard is not the one he’s been expecting — the one from the nightmare he’s had every night since his mother started her treatments. This monster is ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd — whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself — Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.
Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.
But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.
As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical benefits of slavery and the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.
It’s time for Miles to suit up.
Breakthrough – The Red Zone series – by A.L.Priest
Page count: 104
Efram is new to Troy, Ohio, a town where football is everything. And as soon as he sets foot in Troy Central High, the school’s head coach takes notice of Efram’s perfect football build. Suddenly Efram is gearing up for practice―even though he has never played the game.
Flick is too small to run for a touchdown or sack a quarterback. And with his mohawk and outsider attitude, he’s not exactly a team player. But he notices things on the football field that most people can’t see. When Flick and Efram team up, they’ll show Troy Central High a whole new way to win.
Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.
Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival. But then comes a devastating forest fire…
Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.
Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?
Page count: 331 – novel in verse – but my students told me I had to add it
One year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping it will help them find peace. Nora longs for things to go back to normal, like they were when her mother was still alive, while her father keeps them isolated in fear of other people. But when they reach the bottom of the canyon, the unthinkable happens: A flash flood rips across their path, sweeping away Nora’s father and all of their supplies.
Suddenly, Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year. If Nora is going to save herself and her father, she must conquer her fears, defeat the Beast, and find the courage to live her new life.
Natalia is not the kind of girl who takes risks. Six years ago, she barely survived the house fire that killed her baby brother. Now she is cautious and always plays it safe. For months, her co-worker Wyatt has begged her to come hiking with him, and Natalia finally agrees.
But when a wildfire breaks out, blocking the trail back, a perfect sunny day quickly morphs into a nightmare. With no cell service, few supplies, and no clear way out of the burning forest, a group of strangers will have to become allies if they’re going to survive. Hiking in the dark, they must deal with injuries, wild animals and even a criminal on the lam―before the fire catches them.
Page count: 320 – novel in verse – my students told me to add it
Before he was a household name, Cassius Clay was a kid with struggles like any other. Kwame Alexander and James Patterson join forces to vividly depict his life up to age seventeen in both prose and verse, including his childhood friends, struggles in school, the racism he faced, and his discovery of boxing. Readers will learn about Cassius’ family and neighbors in Louisville, Kentucky, and how, after a thief stole his bike, Cassius began training as an amateur boxer at age twelve. Before long, he won his first Golden Gloves bout and began his transformation into the unrivaled Muhammad Ali.
Alvin Townley, a critically acclaimed author of adult nonfiction, delivers a searing YA debut about American POWs during the Vietnam War.Naval aviator Jeremiah Denton was shot down and captured in North Vietnam in 1965. As a POW, Jerry Denton led a group of fellow American prisoners in withstanding gruesome conditions behind enemy lines. They developed a system of secret codes and covert communications to keep up their spirits. Later, he would endure torture and long periods of solitary confinement. Always, Jerry told his fellow POWs that they would one day return home together. Although Jerry spent seven and a half years as a POW, he did finally return home in 1973 after the longest and harshest deployment in US history
Shawn McDaniel’s life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. He is glued to his wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle—he can’t even move his eyes. For all Shawn’s father knows, his son may be suffering. Shawn may want a release. And as long as he is unable to communicate his true feelings to his father, Shawn’s life is in danger.
To the world, Shawn’s senses seem dead. Within these pages, however, we meet a side of him that no one else has seen—a spirit that is rich beyond imagining, breathing life.
Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—but they are a universe apart.
Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.
Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.
Sixteen-year-old Blake has always been the responsible one in his dysfunctional family — the one who drives safely, gets good grades, and looks after his wild younger brother, Quinn. Quinn is his brother’s opposite — a thrill-seeker who’s always chasing the next scary rush, no matter what the cost. But Quinn and Blake are in for the surprise of their lives when they’re thrust into the world of a bizarre phantom carnival — and their souls are the price of admission.
In order to save his brother, and himself, Blake must survive seven different carnival rides before dawn. Seven rides…it sounds easy. But each ride is full of unexpected dangers, because each ride is a reflection of one of Blake’s deepest fears. And the last ride is the worst one of all. Because that’s the one that confronts Blake with a terrifying secret from his past — a secret he’s been running from for years
Every few months, this notion of graphic novels as being something we need to push children out of comes into my life. Whether it is through the words of a teacher who tells a student to “pick something harder,” a home adult who tells their child they can’t read graphic novels anymore, or even the disdain that entire schools or districts offer up at the mention of expanding their collection; misplaced attacks on graphic novels continue.
And I see its effects on the readers I teach. The stories they share of the books they used to read or the books they loved but were restricted from. The way they marvel at the entire room we have full of them. At the relief that they can read anything they want. At the desire to read more of them and more often, as quickly as they can in case the adults in charge change their mind. And while so many of them have been given full access to graphic novels, some haven’t, and so for the sake of all of the other educators who perhaps find themself in the same boat as I do once again, I am pulling together a list of research, resources, and discussion of why graphic novels are “real” books and why they, of course, belong not just on our shelves but also in the hands of any reader who desires to read them.
And yet they get little respect in some reading circles. They are shared as lesser versions of reading, as something we only offer kids who have less developed skills or who are younger as a way to bridge them into “real reading.” As something you do on breaks from school but not as a part of the reading experiences we co-create. Yet, the beauty of graphic novels is in the difference from more traditional print media. That they offer their own unique reading experience that is different from reading a traditional text that offers no visual component. Often those who oppose the use of graphic novels with students or even a steady reading diet of it, compare the two experiences and find one lacking rather than see them for the unique experiences they are. Of course, stamina is developed differently in a text that relies only on decoding to create the full story, however, that doesn’t dismiss the reading of graphic novels. It simply reminds me of why it is important that children are surrounded by many different formats and text complexities in their reading choices. Not so we can limit them as readers but, instead, so we can continue to offer choices as they broaden their reading experiences.
The complexity of reading skills that it requires to fully comprehend a graphic novel has been well-documented. Children need to read at a slower pace in order to interpret the pictures and also decode the words, then synthesize the two components together, while also having spatial awareness and training in order to piece the images together correctly. That is not easy by any mile, which is why I often have to remind or even teach children how to read graphic literature correctly when they do not understand a story. These are reading skills that we use often as visual literacy becomes a larger part of how we communicate and express ourselves. Graphic novels, comic books, and other visual components are on the rise, because so is the use of visual literacy in everyday life, not because we are lazier but because we continue to evolve in our communication style and needs.
But for me, the biggest reason why I am an avid supporter of protecting, and highlighting the reading of graphic novels is the readers themselves. We, the adults in charge of reading instruction, have got to stop limiting and shaming the choices that our readers make. I hear so many complain about how the kids aren’t reading anymore and yet within those complaints, I don’t often see a reflection of which practices we have implemented that may have pushed kids out or away from reading. I get the need for longer text with more words. I get the need for continual growth of readers in order to reach whichever “level” someone has decided will mean they are fully developed at their age group, but what I don’t understand is our gatekeeping of reading materials and experiences. It should be common sense that if we want children to develop their own reading identities then we put them in charge of at least part of that identity, why not book choice? Why not invite them to reflect on the choices of reading materials they make and then ask them how they plan to challenge themselves within those choices? When a child only reads graphic novels, why not honor that and introduce them to further choices that embrace further complexities in storytelling, vocabulary, and visual literacy components? Why not feed their fire rather than douse it with our well-meaning intentions?
If we want children to see reading as something that enrichens their lives beyond the confinement of school, then we must accept where they are in their reading journey and then help them develop and nurture that identity. That starts with honoring their choices because these choices are an extension of who they are. So when we tell them it is time to move on prematurely from something they love, instead of seeing it as a worthy challenge, it creates yet another obstacle and poor experience with reading.
Research to support the use of graphic novels and comics in the classroom – many of these have further links in them:
In our relentless pursuit of co-creating better reading experiences for children it is so important that we do not leave the very children behind that we intend to create the experience for. And so if you find yourself in a situation where the reading of graphic novels or comics is questioned or prohibited, I hope this collection of links and further support will be helpful. If you know of any additional resources I should add, let me know. These are the ones I have used and use currently.
I have been meaning to check in on here, to write out words that do not carry the weight of the world within them, and yet every night, as I fall asleep before 9 PM, I am left with no words, no energy, no reason to share what we are doing because all of my energy seems to be centered in merely existing as this year unfolds.
We thought that last year would be hard, and yet this year, with its intangible difficulties, with its ever-present pressure to continue to just figure it out, has snuck up on me and my family in a way I could have not imagined. How do you maintain a sense of family when you barely see each other beyond the dining room table and guiltily still put your own children to bed around 8 PM just so that you can try to catch up on the sleep that seems to never be caught?
Perhaps, you find yourself in a similar situation. Unable to quite explain to others why this year is harder than the last and yet wish that you could so that perhaps someone could you give you an answer of what to do instead? Because you have tried to change the way you teach, you have adapted, differentiated, cut back, raised up, and lessened the load. You have sought out the experts that graciously share their knowledge, eager to give as much as they can even as they don’t have to navigate the everyday realities of teaching during an ongoing pandemic and you wonder how much they really can know. Perhaps, like me, you have read books, listened to podcasts, browsed social media, and stared in awe as others seem to be functioning just fine, and wondered what is wrong with you and this exhaustion that creeps itself into everything you don’t do. Perhaps, like me, you have tried to make space for self-care but realized that even there you run out of time. And so the guilt intensifies because now you cannot even care for yourself well so how are you ever to be trusted with the care of others?
And perhaps like me, you stand in your classroom, surrounded by incredible children, and realize that this is not the root of the exhaustion but everything that waits outside of the door is. That these kids, these brilliant, resilient, vivacious kids, are not the reason for the despair but one of the only things that combat it. That if you are feeling this way then how do the kids feel? And you see it in the dragged footsteps of your own children as you get them out of bed, in their short responses when you ask what homework they have, in their pleas to please stay home just so we can be together. The world changed and yet we are expected to go on as if it hasn’t because we have so much to do.
And the tiredness is pervasive. It shows up when you check your email and see one more helpful tip or additional thing to do. It shows up when you are told of the professional development that must still be completed even though you know that you have developed yourself more in the last 20 months than you ever had before in your teaching career and no official recognition happened for that. It shows up when you are expected to be evaluated this year and it makes you want to laugh because you are certain this year is not the year to think of the future because you can barely keep up with the growth you have already been forced through. And how are administrators supposed to find time for that anyway? It shows up when your community is at odds with schools at the center because of what they say you do or don’t do to indoctrinate children
Yet the world keeps spinning and we are told to not only continue to do the near-impossible; catch them up, fill the gap, change your teaching, change the world, but also to take care of ourselves, to rest, meditate, and go for walks. To consider how every action we do charts our course for the future. And you try, and you fail, and you feel like it will never be enough, and yet you show up the next day and try again. Because that’s what we do. We try again, even if we no longer know what to try or how we can find the energy for again.
And we will do so until we break because that is what the system has trained us to do.
So in this quiet moment of this Saturday without plans, I urge us all to also recognize that the new normal is being shaped right now and that unless we collectively raise our voices and push back on the increased workload, the increased pressure to get back to what was a broken before, this will be the norm. That this feeling that so many of us carry of not being enough, of exhaustion, will be the feelings that shape the teaching professions even more so for years to come. And it wasn’t like teaching was an easy profession to begin with.
So perhaps, like me, you don’t need more to do but less. For someone to remind you that we are doing hard things every day. That the kids in our care are doing hard things every day. Of how we inch by inch are building a new normal and how we need to be in charge of what that normal looks like alongside the kids in our care. That if we do not continually remember how broken the system was to begin with then surely we will try to glue back together the pieces even as the cracks show.
And so I remember how important boundaries are, of how it cannot all be placed on the shoulders of educators because that was never what our job was supposed to be. Of the power of saying no, guilt-free. Of the power of raising your voice and pushing back. Of saying enough. Of recognizing that there is only so much you can do and that does not make you a bad educator but instead a realistic one. Of knowing that every day the biggest gift we can give to the kids in our care is to be fully rested, to be fully present in order to recognize that no, the problem is not just you, it is the very system we reside in, one that we have a chance to shape into something better than it was before but not if we don’t push back on the things being forced upon us now. So rest up and raise your voice when you can. I know I will.